Sunday, September 24, 2023

Baker Supporters Rally Again After WAC Board Meeting Announced

A large group of WAC members and swimmers gathered again on Wednesday at "the bubble." (Ty Hodges/WYDaily)
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Harold Baker poses with a trio of young swimmers. (Submitted)
Harold Baker poses with a trio of young swimmers. (Submitted)

For the second consecutive day, more than 100 people turned out to a rally in support Harold Baker, the Williamsburg Aquatic Club’s head coach and founder, who was fired by the WAC Board of Directors on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Board of Directors sent an email to members announcing a membership-only meeting to be held Friday.

“This is not a meeting to conduct club business,” the email read. “Instead, this is a forum to discuss recent actions of the board and to answer your questions.”

Rebecca Cristol, the WAC Board of Directors president, told WYDaily the board will present the reason Baker was terminated at the meeting.

WAC Fires Founder Harold Baker, Sparks Outrage Among Members

Keenly aware of the backlash toward the board from angry WAC members, Cristol urged all parties involved to wait until all the facts of the situation are revealed in Friday’s meeting.

“I know that Harold has a lot of supporters and that doesn’t surprise me. This has nothing to do with him being a wonderful person or a coach who impacted hundreds and hundreds of swimmers’ lives,” she said. “I urge everyone to keep an open mind that there is a reason that this has been done.”

Betsy Lavin, a former WAC swimmer and coach, took issue with Cristol’s comments, questioning why the facts of the case were not made available up front when the firing was announced.

“If they fired him for the reasons they stated and those aren’t all the facts, then why weren’t they listed at the time,” Lavin said.

Sarah Podolin, a parent of two WAC swimmers, shared Lavin’s sentiments.

“It’d be easy to have an open mind if we had all the information,” Podolin said.

During Wednesday’s rally at “the bubble,” Eastern State Hospital’s swimming pool, Podolin stated the group’s desire to have Baker reinstated and have the Board of Directors issue a public apology for their actions. If those actions are not met, Podolin said the group will move forward with attempting to dissolve the board through a special meeting.

Before the special meeting will be held, Baker supporters will turn out to Friday’s informational meeting in the hopes of having their questions about Baker’s dismissal answered by the board.

Before Friday’s meeting, Lavin said WAC alumni and concerned parents who are not allowed to enter the meeting, which is reserved for current members in good standing only, will gather outside the James City County Recreation Center in a show of support for Baker.

As well as planning for Friday’s meeting, the pro-Baker members of WAC are also planning to hand deliver a letter to the Board of Directors requesting a special meeting, during which official club actions can be voted on and executed.

The WAC bylaws state “Special meetings may be called provided the cause is presented in writing to the President by five (5) members who are in good standing.”

“This constitution may be altered or amended by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the members present at a membership meeting,” the bylaws read. “The Executive Board will give written or electronic notice of proposed changes to the constitution to all members of record at least ten (10) calendar days prior to the membership meeting.”

At the special meeting, Lavin hopes to challenge the decision of the Board of Directors to terminate Baker.

“We are not accepting his termination as legitimate because we don’t believe the voting board is legitimate,” she said. “They needed five voting members present. On the executive board, no fewer than five and no more than 10 members need to be present to have a valid vote.”

Prior to Baker’s official termination, Member At-Large Kara Burrows resigned from her position on the board, while another member — Treasurer Anna Kostelni – is in the process of resigning over the decision, leaving the WAC Board of Directors with four active members.

Lavin told WYDaily having less than five active members on the Board of Directors makes the decision to fire Baker illegitimate and invalid.

However, the WAC bylaws state “all club business may be conducted on an informal basis. The President is authorized to appoint a parliamentarian and conduct business in accord with Robert’s Rules of Order, revised.”

Pat Hogan, the club development managing director for USA Swimming, said clubs are independent members of USA Swimming and are free to govern themselves.

With no ability to lean on USA Swimming bylaws and no clear mention of voting limitations by Board members in the WAC bylaws, the Baker supporters will likely turn to the special meeting in order to accomplish their goals or reinstating Baker and dissolving the current Board of Directors.

Podolin said she believes the group might also have leverage as a nonstock corporation, hoping to be able to dissolve the Board of Directors through Virginia Nonstock Corporation Act.

Podolin also confirmed the group was consulting with a lawyer in case legal action is required.

Correction: This article has been corrected to show the special meeting request letter has not yet been delivered. Incorrect information was provided.

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